Sunday, 15 November 2015

Binge-reading into winter: a mammoth Quicklit update

Another month has Two more months have gone by, full of good intentions for blog posts gone fallow but books devoured by the stack-load. School's start-up must have taken more out of me than I give it credit; either that or the early mornings are leaving far too much time for reading before errands are even an option. I may have to take part of Emily's advice on reading rhythms and stop reading fiction before noon. It's all too easy to take my morning coffee and breakfast novel from table to easy chair and read the early hours away. Both my blog and my housework are feeling my absence. In the meantime, here's a recap of all the input my brain has been receiving, the binges, the rereads, the new finds and all:

The Nesting Dolls12 Rose Street, The Last Good Day, The Gifted, Verdict in BloodThe Glass Coffin, & A Killing Springby Gail Bowen
In late September, I went away for a weekend retreat for the first time in years, leaving house and children in my husband's capable hands. I picked up a hoard of Gail Bowen mysteries to keep him company in my absence, only to read them all myself on my return, even the ones I'd read before. I've listed the thrillers in the order I read them, and it differs widely from the order in which they were written. I'm evermore impressed with Bowen's ability to allow her highly chronological series to be read in almost any order at all. She fills a reader in on enough of Joanne Killborn's past to give proper context for her current adventure, but she leaves out the pertinent details that would give the earlier games away, in case you'd like to get to them later. Joanne speaks and thinks of friends and acquaintances who met their ends in previous novels, but doesn't mention who their killers were or even that their deaths involved any foul play. So if you'd like to give Bowen a try, don't worry about finding the first book. As long as you read Murder at the Mendel before The Gifted, none of the plots will be spoiled.

The Other Boleyn Girl, by Philippa Gregory
Much like the Antoinette tale I read in August, I made the delightful discovery that a famous figure I knew very little about was an absolutely fascinating person. Gregory tells the story of Anne Boleyn's pursuit of queendom through the eyes of her younger sister, a person almost lost to the historical record but for the fact that she was Henry VIII's mistress in the years before he set his eyes on Anne. Gregory takes meticulous research and a rich imagination to create an engrossing tale, rift with dangerous games, complex characters, and detailed machiavellian intrigue. It's a little on the racy side at times, but not nearly the bodice-ripper I was afraid it would be. I'm looking forward to reading more about the Tudors.

Jane of Lantern Hill, by L. M. Montgomery
This out-of-print lovely spent a long time coming to me, and then was gobbled up in a day. It was typical Montgomery: a stifled child blossoming in a new environment, a thwarted romance with potential for mending, and the joys of country living in good old P.E.I. I'm so glad the Book Man found it. NB: I linked to that video on purpose. You're welcome ;)

The Blue Castle, by L. M. Montgomery
Jane's transformation from a frightened hopeless clutz to intelligent and confident home manager reminded me so strongly of Valancy's that I picked up her adventure next. The Blue Castle has been my favourite Montgomery book for years, and I don't see that changing (though Jane of Lantern Hill is vying for close second).  It's amazing the turn that life can take when one lets go of one's fears. I never tire of reading on the subject.

Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
Remember last spring when I skipped QuickLit to keep reading The Brothers K? It happened again in October, but this time the culprit was Gone with the Wind. I couldn't believe how engrossing it was; every one of those thousand-plus pages was rift with action, drama, and vivid imagery. Scarlett O'Hara makes for an almost omnipotent narrator; she witnesses so much that she fails to take in. A reader is more than free to disagree with the heroine's point of view, which - given Scarlett's perfect storm of prejudices, snap judgements, and faulty conclusions - is often a very good thing. You remember all that she's dismissed or forgotten, and those details bring her main supporting actors a depth of character far beyond what Scarlett herself would ever grant them. On the other hand, Mitchell's black characters are only seen as Scarlett sees them, but that strange mix of loyalty and suspicion, dependency and paternalism explains a lot about the master-to-servant attitudes portrayed in Stokett's The Help and Monk Kids' The Invention of Wings. I can see why it's such a controversial classic.

My Secret Sister, by Helen Edwards & Jenny Lee Smith
I picked this fascinating story of twins separated at birth off my parents' shelf over Thankgiving. I'd meant to leave it for later, but when my eight-year-old starting eying it, I thought I'd better give it a thorough read before handing it on to her. It was a good call. Edwards and Lee Smith take turns telling of their separate lives as far back as they remember right up to the point, nearly sixty years later, when they finally discover each other's existence. It's a fascinating memoir of two very different growing ups through the 1950s and 60s, but the abuse and neglect on Helen's side would be a bit too much for such a young reader. In a couple years, it will be a different story. I only wish the sisters had been able to find out why their mother made the choices she did; but that's the difference between truth and fiction I suppose. You don't always get to pick your own ending.

The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith
I enjoyed Rowling's second private eye novel even more than the first, and that's saying a lot. The Silkworm digs into the fragility and self-importance of the post-modern publishing world, where every writer believes they deserve to be famous and that no relationship is worth more than a story that sells. Smart, fast, and - despite centering on a novel too disgusting for publication - not nearly as explicit as A Casual Vacancy.

And that's all she read. Really. If your appetite's larger than mine (or your tastes differ), do head over to Modern Mrs. Darcy for many other great reviews.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Suburban wonderland

For the last two years, I've spent my Monday evenings chauffering my daughter to and from ballet. The class is a twenty-minute drive away, taking us from the city's century-old core into a neighbourhood who's oldest homes were built in the 1970s. Rather than spend the forty-minute lesson in the cramped foyer outside her classroom, I've used the time for grocery shopping or taking a book to one of the few chain restaurants in the nearest big-box strip. Such weekly indulgences get pricey, however, so I  swallowed my preferences for prewar homes and stately elms and tried taking a walk.

I first discovered this path in early October. Instead of an alley, there's a bike path between back fences, over-hung with branches from back yard trees. I still missed the elms, but the willows swayed invitingly and the mountain ashes flamed bright. It's a big step up from the garbage-can-strewn alleys that string between the lots of yesteryear, and so well lit I kept up my jaunts even once sunset had crept up before ballet time.

This autumn, I followed my feet in the opposite direction and found an even greater treat: Lake Beaumaris, Edmonton's first man-made lake. It has aged so gracefully since it was first dug in 1979, and is surrounded on all sides by a well-used public path. If I hadn't seen its convenient moat-like shape on the map, I would have assumed it was a relic of pre-city landscape and that the park was built around it.

I'm sometime loath to change my own narrative. Decades of turning my nose at cookie cutter homes and traffic calmed streets may have saved me from getting lost in pre-planned neighbourhoods, but I now have reason to believe I've missed out on a few gems. Urban planning can be done right. Who would have thought?